How to find below-market accommodation in San Francisco


In 2016, just two years after college, a 23-year-old San Francisco media worker bought her first home. Sally French has accomplished a feat that defies generations and breaks the molds, she wrote in a self-explanatory Market surveillance room, she bought a house in San Francisco, a few blocks from Twitter headquarters, in a new building, for $ 268,000.

She has managed to do this while presumably committing the cardinal sin of buying the occasional bit of expensive toast, or going to a wedding, or participating in one of the reasons Millennials have a lot of money. hard to afford to buy their own home. .

French and her positive experience with affordable housing in San Francisco is “living proof,” she wrote, “that it is possible to buy a house in San Francisco even if you are not a millionaire.”

Everything she wrote is true. It is possible to tag this white whale of San Francisco real estate: an affordable housing unit of the city’s “inclusive housing program”, also known as the “BMR” program (for “below market rate” ).

But there is indeed a kind of catch. The experience of French may also not be exactly representative. In fact, this may be the exception that proves the rule, which is that to get an affordable condo in San Francisco, you have to be one of several things at the same time, in the right places. quantities.

Please note that the city has extended the application deadlines for some registrations due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Check each listing for details. Paper applications received after March 16 will not be included in the lotteries. Visit to see more COVID-19 changes.

What is a home below the market rate?

A below-market house is just one form of that San Francisco black swan: affordable housing. BMRs come in two forms: rentals, for people with very low incomes, and condos for purchase, for people who earn a little more money, but not too much.

When did BMRs become a thing in San Francisco?

Since 2002, when the first tech boom was about to recede.

What types of buildings have BMRs?

You’ll find rental units or BMR condos in every new building in San Francisco that has ten or more units – or if you don’t, you’ll find them nearby or in another building the developer needed to build. New construction of buildings with ten or more units must include affordable housing, which is why they are also called inclusive housing.

How do I apply for a BMR house in San Francisco?

You must be a first-time buyer and “you cannot have owned any property anywhere in the past three years”. You need to earn a little money – enough to have saved enough to cover a down payment and closing costs – but not too much to not qualify for the unit (there is an income cap that varies from household to household. the other).

Can I get a BMR with a partner and / or a child?

Yes. Sometimes having a dependent partner or a child helps and sometimes it hurts. Sometimes, like in the situation of an 800 square foot condo in Pacific Heights that KPIX pointed out in 2018, you have to be some sort of unicorn: a family of four, with a combined income of no more than $ 92,250 per year. , who still managed to hang on to life in San Francisco while saving enough money for a down payment on a $ 400,000 property.

But being exceptional or exceptionally good with your money is not enough. Above all, you must be exceptionally lucky. Because in this city, affordable housing is also a real game of chance.

To safeguard. Buying an affordable home here is like gambling?

Not exactly. But there is a lottery, like in a raffle.

What are the odds of scoring a BMR?

Actually, not that bad, if you compare it to the California State Lottery, of course.

As reported by Curbed SF, the Mayor’s Office of Housing, which manages the program, ran 104 lotteries in 2017. There were over 85,000 applications for 1,210 units, including 1,510 offers for income units. modest like the house of French, and 83,733 rooms for one of the 1,025 very low rents with low incomes.

Overall, it’s about a 1 in 70 chance.

How to participate in the BMR lottery?

In order to participate in the Housing Lottery, you will need to complete six hours of instruction and two additional hours of individual counseling.

Whenever a new building is constructed in San Francisco, the developer is required to either build on site or pay for the building elsewhere in affordable housing. This is the “inclusion” part of the “inclusion housing program”.

It is well known that the city requires private developers to help house a few low-income people. What is less known are the smallest details, as they changed in 2017.

As SPUR’s Kristy Wang explained:

New developments of 25 or more housing units are now required to make 18-20% of their units affordable, build affordable units at another location representing 30-33% of total units, or pay a fee in lieu. the equivalent of the cost of 30 to 33 percent of the units, which will then be used to build affordable housing elsewhere.

But wait, there is more.

In addition, annual increases in on-site requirements have now been established, which could potentially make future projects less feasible. On-site requirements will increase by 1% on January 1, 2018 and January 1, 2019, and then increase by 0.5% per year until reaching 24-26%.

Sometimes affordable housing is also basically created from one of the many funds the city has available to build such things. It can take a very, very long time and does not happen often.

Other times, affordable units are created due to Byzantine land transfers.

And other times, lucky winners like Sally French tire of their white whales with unicorn horns and put their black swans and mixed metaphors up for sale.

885 Folsom, Yerba Buena Lofts, has a handful of BMR units.
Photo by Patricia Chang

These units exist; they are for sale. Can I already buy one please?

It depends. You must qualify to be considered.

What are the income requirements for the BMR consideration?

Take a look at the income caps. You’ll see they’re derived from the federal government’s “Fair Market Rental Zone (HMFA) that contains San Francisco.” As of May 2019, the “median area income” was $ 86,200.

This is relevant because every BMR property has income limits. Look at the listings for some examples. Try to find one or two units that you might like or for which you might qualify.

If you qualify, there are a few more hoops, including the aforementioned six-hour workshop, a two-hour one-on-one counseling session, as well as credit and background checks to see if you’ll be approved for a loan. .

Suppose you check all of these boxes and now go through the lists of probable units. Here’s one: 323 29th Street in Noe Valley.

This is a 610 square foot, two bedroom, one bathroom unit for $ 536,517.

To qualify, you’ll need to have enough in the bank to cover a down payment – in fact, more, considering closing costs – and in addition to the mortgage, you’ll need to earn enough to cover the monthly $ 516 HOA fee.

And you can’t earn more than $ 86,200. Have a partner? You can’t win more than $ 98,500 for two. Oh, I have a baby on the way and a promotion? Hopefully the baby comes first, as the household income limit for a family of three is $ 110,850.

How else can I get a head start in the lottery?

At 1235 McAllister, where a unit was put on the market in 2018, any household in which a member held a certificate of preference from the Redevelopment Agency was given the first preference. If you also have a preference voucher for displaced tenants’ housing, you have a head start in the lottery – ditto if you could “submit acceptable documentation that at least one member lives or works in San Francisco.”

If I mark a BMR, can I later decide to rent it on Airbnb?

Absolutely not. In addition to being ethically sticky, renting your home below market price is illegal. People who have tried to do so have been exposed and crucified on social media.

Is there a list of available BMR units and upcoming lotteries?

Here is.

And for other affordable housing in San Francisco not managed by the Mayor’s Office for Housing and Community Development, check out for a full list.


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